Paulo and Religion

On August 9, 1942: I, Paulo-Juarez Pereira, was born in Brazil, not long after the death of my older brother, Benedito Pereira. Benedito died of a childhood illness. He was barely two years old.

My formal Studies of Religion

In May 1954, A Marist Brother came to my grammar school Passos to look for students for his school, which was located in the State of São Paulo. He showed pictures of the school and explained all the good things that the students were learning and doing there. I went home and asked my mom to let me go to that school. My mother was adamant and would not hear of it. So, instead, I enrolled at Ginásio de Passos and started my middle-school program. That was 1955.

Barely two months into my studies at Ginásio de Passos, Fr. Anselmo, a dutch Carmelite priest,  came to Passos with the same intent: To find students for a his school near Belo Horizont, the capital of Minas Gerais. So, accompanied by my mom, Geralda do Santos Pereira, I had an interview with Fr. Anselmo.

The interview had been arranged by D. Júlia Cardoso Lemos Maia, wife of the then Mayor of Passos, Mr. Geraldo da Silva Maia. D. Júlia had heard a sermon by Fr. Anselmo, who had explained the purpose of his visit to Passos. He was looking for students for his recently founded school.

D. Júlia explained to my mom that, in a dream, she had been told that I was destined to go to that Carmelite school. My mother was not sure, since her son was good company to her, after the death of her husband, Paulo’s father. Besides, Paulo was only 12 years old. How could he go? But D. Júlia was adamant: Paulo needed to go and study with the Carmelite priests.

At the interview, I saw Fr. Anselmo as a man with a large belly, a loud voice and an unusual accent. His flowing robe and flapping sleeves were intimidating. But he had a big smile and a friendly attitude. I relaxed; answered questions; listened.

He explained to my mom about the school, what they intended to do, and the program they had for the students. He talked about teachers from Europe. The school was going to combine the best methods of Brazil and of Europe. They would have modern facilities, a brand-new building, large classrooms, a sports compound with a soccer field, and a swimming pool. Students would have time to study. And they would receive a religious education.

My mom answered that her son was already in school in Passos. Besides, she explained she was not in a position to pay for the expenses of a first-grade education for her son, since she was a recent widow with young children.

Fr. Anselmo told my mom that she was to have no worries at all about the costs. The school was prepared to offer me a full scholarship, covering my entire education. All she needed to do was to prepare me, get me there, and they would take care of the rest. I found out years later that the generous offer by Fr. Anselmo was made possible by wealthy donors who were supporting the education of poor kids in Brazil. In time, I came to meet the family that was taking care of my costs. They had adopted me like their own son.

Still, while my mom and Fr. Anselmo were talking, I felt I was on a rollercoaster of emotions. Going to that school was like receiving an unexpected treasure as an inheritance. Still, I loved my mom and my family. But all in all, I was very enthusiastic about going to the Carmelite school to study.

At the end of the interview, Fr. Anselmo told my mom to go home and pray about his offer. “God will tell you that this is the right thing for Paulo,” he said. He told my mom he was going to leave in three days and asked her to have an answer for him by then.

Meanwhile, D. Júlia, the mayor’s wife, summoned my mom to report on the meeting with the priest. She continued to insist that I should go to study with the Carmelites. For me, the rollercoaster of emotions continued. I was so excited with the prospect of a first-rate education, getting to know new people, traveling, learning, having a brand-new soccer field to play; having a swimming pool available to me. In my hometown, the membership cost at the swimming pool was too high for my mom, and I ended up swimming in streams, when I could.

After three days of long discussions and a rollercoaster of emotions, my mom decided to let me go. We went back to Fr. Anselmo and gave him our decision: Paulo was going to go and study at his school. Fr. Anselmo gave my mom instructions on how to take me to that school, and he left shortly after that. In April 1955, I arrived at Seminário dos Padres Carmelitas, Contagem, Minas Gerais. I was 12 years old.

And so, my formal relationship with God began.